1746
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Odes on Various Subjects: The Advertisement.

Odes on Various Subjects. By Joseph Warton, B.A. of Oriel College, Oxon.

Rev. Joseph Warton


Joseph Warton's call for a "fanciful and descriptive" poetics was the basis not only for his verse, but for his critical work in Essay on the Genius and Poetry of Pope. The immediate target of his criticism is Alexander Pope's ethical epistles, though he is probably thinking as well of the Dunciad and the host of satires and verse epistles that had been the preoccupation of literature in recent decades.

Thomas Campbell: "he published a volume of his odes, in the preface to which he expressed a hope that they would be regarded as a fair attempt to bring poetry back from the moralizing and didactic taste of the age, to the truer channels of fancy and description. Collins, our author's immortal contemporary, also published his odes in the same month of the same year. He realised, with the hand of genius, that idea of highly personified and picturesque composition, which Warton contemplated with the eye of taste. But Collins's works were ushered in with no manifesto of a design to regenerate the taste of the age, with no pretensions of erecting a new or recovered standard of excellence" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 664.

Mark Pattison: "The doctrine that human action and passion are the only material of poetic fiction was the first theorem of Greek aesthetic. But it had been lost sight of, and was not introduced into modern criticism till its revival by Lessing in 1766. The practice both of our poets, and of our English critics, in the eighteenth century, had forgotten this capital distinction between the art of language, and the art of design. The English versifiers of that century had not the poetic impulse in sufficient intensity to feel the distinction. And the Addison-Johnson criticism, which regarded a poem as made up of images and propositions in verse, could not teach the truth. So the poets went to work to describe scenery. And our collections are filled with verse, didactic and descriptive, which, with many merits of style and thought, has no title to rank as poetry" The English Poets, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 2:296.

William Lyon Phelps: "This is a rap over the knuckles for Classicism; in a crude and rough way Warton here articulated the Romantic doctrine. He had believed this in 1740, and during his whole life he clung to these views with singular tenacity" Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement (1893) 91.

W. J. Courthope: "In 1746, the same year that Collins brought out his Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects, Warton published a volume containing his Odes on Various Subjects, together with other poems, among which was The Enthusiast. The odes are not remarkable, but The Enthusiast is noteworthy, as being perhaps the earliest deliberate expression in England (for it is said to have been written in 1740) of the feeling in which the Romantic movement originated" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:379.

Oliver Elton: "Joseph Warton is not a revolutionary critic, but a kind of literary Whig" Survey of English Literature 1730-1780 (1928) 2:40.




The Public has been so much accustom'd of late to didactic Poetry alone, and Essays on moral Subjects, that any work where the imagination is much indulged, will perhaps not be relished or regarded. The author therefore of these pieces is in some pain least certain austere critics should think them too fanciful and descriptive. But as he is convinced that the fashion of moralizing in verse has been carried too far, and as he looks upon Invention and Imagination to be the chief faculties of a Poet, so he will be happy if the following Odes may be look'd upon as an attempt to bring back Poetry into its right channel.


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